Spotting PTSD in your Child

November 14, 2016

QUICK! What does PTSD look like?


Did you suddenly conjure up an image of a soldier returning from war, struggling with the aftermath of combat? If you answered yes, it’s thanks to the awareness our community has been able to raise about the physical and emotional suffering of our veterans. Incredible! This awareness has allowed our helping fields to produce more research on post-traumatic stress disorder which, in turn, created methods of treatment to serve our military population. Importantly, this research has also helped along the realization that PTSD doesn’t have just one face to it. It can look like a coast-side community dealing with the wreckage of a tsunami or hurricane, a mother just suffering a problematic childbirth, or less obvious, a child just 2 years old suffering in the wake of his father’s sudden death.

Danger is present all around us. When our children are young, we attempt baby-proofing every furniture corner and outlet to prevent injury. When our children grow older, we guide them on how to interact with their world and how to avoid unsafe people, places, and situations. Sometimes, though, terrible things do happen. Children may experience trauma by way of a car accident, being attacked by an animal, a natural disaster, a home fire, witnessing domestic violence, or abuse.

For most children, PTSD symptoms go away on their own after a few months following a traumatic experience. However, some children show symptoms for years if they do not get treatment. When symptoms do endure, PTSD often goes unrecognized by caregivers, and so familiarizing ourselves with the signs of PTSD in children is important. Symptoms may include:

  • Traumatic memories and nightmares.
  • Avoiding reminders of the trauma.
  • Feeling like the world is unsafe.  
  • If they are younger than 6 years, they may get upset if their parents are not nearby, have trouble sleeping, or act out the trauma through play.
  • If they are over the age of 7, they may have nightmares or become more irritable and aggressive. They may also avoid school and friends.
  • Children in the teen years may have symptoms more similar to adults: depression, anxiety, withdrawal, etc.

What treatments are available?

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
    • Trauma-Focused CBT is an evidence-based treatment for treating PTSD in children. It involves challenging and changing thoughts and beliefs about the experience trauma, all while maintain a safe pace for your child.
  • EMDR
    • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing is a therapy that involves directed eye movements to help process traumatic memories.
  • Play Therapy
    • For younger children with PTSD, play therapy is an effective way for your child to process trauma with a therapist through games, drawings, etc. Play therapy offers children a natural way of learning about themselves and their relationship with the world, and to communicate and express themselves in a safe and structured method.


What can you do to help your child?

  • Learn about PTSD and watch for the above signs.
  • Get professional help.
    • Our counselors can help treat traumatic stress symptoms in children and adults. Cameron Dumas, LMSW, specializes in child and adolescent counseling with extensive experience in issues ranging from anxiety and depression to trauma and grief/loss.
How to Spot PTSD in Your Child